July 17, 2017 Interview – Jyrki 69 of The 69 Eyes
There is the old saying that some people are lifers, forever dedicated with an undying passion for a particular cause. Rising from the underground of Helsinki, Finland, the night creature known as Jyrki 69 has earned the aforementioned title in the world of Rock-n-Roll. Splitting time in the shadows of his birthplace and New York City, Jyrki 69 has led The 69 Eyes for nearly three decade, making them an international powerhouse in the world of Goth ‘n’ Roll. Known for a distinctive baritone vocal range, Jyrki 69’s music has captured the essence of Glam, Goth, and Classic Rock while marrying it with cinematic lyrical style.
Still hungry for blood, on the heels of The 69 Eyes 2016 album Universal Monsters, Jyrki 69 returns in 2017 with his first ever solo album, fitting titled Helsinki Vampire. Darker, more atmospheric, and the embodiment of Jyrki 69’s persona, he looks to continue the creative flow well into the future. Recently we caught up with the rocker to talk the story behind The 69 Eyes, the idea behind Helsinki Vampires, life in Rock-n-Roll, Horror movies, and more.
CrypticRock.com – The 69 Eyes have been together for nearly three decades. In that time the band has really become one of the leaders in Gothic Rock having released ten albums and touring all over the world. First, tell us what has this journey been like for you?
Jyrki 69 – We recently played at a legendary Gothic festival which has been going twenty-five years. That was our sixth time at that festival. The first time we played there was already seventeen years ago. All of a sudden, there is a lot these numbers where something happened. For instance, we played at the festival, and the first time, it feels like yesterday, but it was seventeen years ago! Having this band three decades, most of the things feel like they just happened yesterday. Of course there is some blurred parts where I don’t exactly remember why that happened or what happened.
It took a long time for The 69 Eyes to reach our sound and how it is known these days. It took us some ten years. Of course all through these years and decades music scenes have changed, styles have gone, and some stayed. We always just relied on basic values of Rock-n-Roll and added some Horror movie vampire elements ever since the beginning. Those are actually as classic as black leather jackets. Those are the things that never go out of style. We never wanted to be in style anyway, but you have to remember that we are an ’80s band. We started in 1989 and movies like The Lost Boys was still brand new and things like that. That world was the world that inspired us to start the band.
There were great and cool bands like The Cult or Danzig, or The Cramps and Ramones, that were ruling our world, our whole world back in those days. When we started the band, those were our influences. They have stayed the same and those influences have been very eternal as well as time tested. We were only doing what we knew best. I think our advantage these days as we play, as I look at the audience, I think what is the main value for us, is we have some songs which probably are played around the world at the Goth clubs or Rock-n-Roll clubs or some happenings like that. Those are, of course, something that we are known for, but I think our value is that we just keep on going. We’re the same lineup, same guys, we have never had any breaks. We’ve been releasing records, not endlessly, but we’ve been touring and we have stood there through all these times.
I mentioned our influences, we stood through all these times, and have been continuing the legacy. That started to happen when these bands started to disappear. All of a sudden there are not so many of these kinds of bands left anymore. It’s not so long ago that there was Type O Negative or the other bands who shared the same kind of ideas or influences that we have. Through the years, I mean there’s not even Motörhead anymore. We’re still here and I think that becomes more important for us. Like I said, as I’m looking at the audience, I wonder a little what they see in us. I think in these days and these times right here right now, our main value is that we just go on.
CrypticRock.com – Right, and the band has certainty stood the test of time. It has been a progression. You started off with more of a Garage Rock style.
Jyrki 69 – Yeah, it was a very naughty, glammy band when we started. I loved the ’60s Garage Punk and other earlier ’60s bands. I also loved Sunset Strip Glam stuff and New York City Street Glam and the Ramones. I sort of wanted to melt everything together. It took a long time to make some sense with it. At some point – now that we are talking about it – it’s been for years no wonder somebody likes these things.
At some point it was very strange because I wanted all these elements to be present in the band, but it took a while to find the right way to put it out. It was a little bit strange for people. These days, a lot of people don’t categorize themselves so closed-mindedly. They don’t say I only listen to Psychobilly and nothing else. A lot of people listen to Black Metal, Psychobilly, Goth Rock, and various different subgenres. Then there is always some bands that can gather every kind of little groups together such as Depeche Mode or Rammstein, or even Johnny Cash.
CrypticRock.com – People are definitely more open-minded when it comes to music. That is definitely something that has changed through the years. What is really interesting about The 69 Eyes is it was probably a good fifteen or sixteen years into your established career in the European market that you broke through in North America with 2004’s Devils. Was that exciting to you to see that you were getting notification in the U.S at that time?
Jyrki 69 – I have a background of the whole history of in The 69 Eyes; a history of hanging out back in the late ’80s in New York in the Glam and Punk and Rock-n-Roll scene. I was a teenager, a Rock-n-Roll fanboy that was having my adventures in New York City in the late ’80s and early ’90s. That’s where I got inspiration to start the band. In some early bios of ours, which I naturally wrote, it said The 69 Eyes exists between Helsinki and New York because I so much wanted us to have a strong relation to New York. A lot of these New York bands obviously inspired us.
Then years passed and a lot of things happened. At some point, all of a sudden after ten years, we started to become popular in our home country here in Finland and our songs started to be played on the radio. All of a sudden we started to get gold records. Then Central European audiences discovered us as well. So I thought, hey, let’s go back to the original recipe and it’s time to go back to The States. I actually really said that in that way. I told everybody that we were going to do a new record and it’s going to be called Devils. That’s going to be the record that is going to open up the gates to The States for us.
Obviously Devils had some songs that made more sense in The States. For instance, “Lost Boys,” which is like a tribute for the 1987 movie. Then this new MTV movement started to happen so Jackass happened. One guy from there, Bam Margera, discovered Finland and discovered that Finland has cool bands. He obviously helped us out a lot when he directed our video for the song “Lost Boys.” He sort of made it into a remake of the whole movie. We were all of a sudden on MTV in The States. Finally, our records became available in The States and we were touring there and we were playing talk shows. It just happened. That was really sweet because, from my point of view, it was always my dream. It was like my dream was really coming true. Ever since the lyrics from the first naughty, glammy demo we did, they are all my interpretation of the American youth culture and Popular culture.
I was really happy that finally the stuff that I had created had found its way back home. People immediately understood what we are about. The coolest thing for us was, I was just thinking that we were recycling Classic Rock values back to The States. It was really cool when we were touring and all kinds of people and all ages of people were at the show. There were Rock-n-Roll veteran fans who were thinking of bringing the way Rock-n-Roll used to be with the Ramones and Led Zeppelin and things like that. It was incredible, I really thought it would be like this and finally we made it back there. There is some justice in Rock-n-Roll!
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a great time.
Jyrki 69 – It was, really. The ’80s was a great time when the Rock-n-Roll really happened those days. New York in the late ’80s was fantastic. But it’s no use crying over spilled milk. That was then and we are living these days. I’m glad we had a chance to witness and have good times then. The good times are going to continue. It’s still the good times and The 69 Eyes are here to make sure.
CrypticRock.com – You have said earlier, The 69 Eyes have been going for a really long time and you have not taken much time off. It was back in 2016 that you came out with Universal Monster, which is the band’s eleventh record. Now you have this new solo record, Helsinki Vampire. What is interesting is that there was about a four year gap between The 69 Eyes albums and a year later you have the solo album. Was material for these two albums something you have been working on for awhile?
Jyrki 69 – No, before Universal Monsters I had always had my musical side adventures. Before 2014 I had actually formed this Rockabilly supercrew kind of thing called The 69 Cats. That’s my dark American Rockabilly band. I wanted to try out playing some roots Rock-n-Roll music. That’s a band with Danny B. Harvey from the Rockats and recently from The Head Cat with Lemmy of Motörhead. Danny B. Harvey on guitar and Chopper Franklin from The Cramps on the bass, and on drums on the albums, and some shows, was Clem Burke from Blondie. This was called The 69 Cats with me on vocals. We released an album in 2014 called Transylvanian Tapes. This was something that I was doing before. I wanted to play and sing Rockabilly. We played really cool shows in The States – Hollywood, New Orleans, Nashville, and so on. We also toured in Europe. This was like a little holiday and an inspirational time for me to write the stuff for The 69 Eyes for Universal Monsters.
Since that, I’ve been feeling really creative. Right after Universal Monsters, I had wanted to try something else. Johnny Lee Michaels, the main producer of the most known 69 Eyes albums, returned. He was producing my vocals for The 69 Cats and a year after he produced the whole The 69 Eyes album, Universal Monsters. Then a year ago, we decided, hey let’s do something just together, just me and him.
He has been creating music over the years just for his own archives. He had a lot of stuff, this movie sounding music. He had all these movie kind of songs. We just created Helsinki Vampire from his own music and decided to just make it as dark as possible. There is two exceptions which are the first single, “Last Halloween,” that is a Halloween anthem, nothing more and nothing less. It’s just a song that you can put on before or after on Halloween. It’s made for that. Then there’s the single that is going to come out that’s called “Blood Lust,” which is more of a song that you can play at a club for people. The rest of the record is really dark. The rest of the record I would say is more mindful music. It’s very dark, long songs, they can be over ten minutes. It’s not poppy at all, it’s the darkest music I’ve ever done. So we were just, “Let’s do it!” I’m excited, and despite these two singles, it’s very different from the regular 69 Eyes stuff. I’m just really excited to deliver this for people who are into our music or for people who are following what I am doing.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is much darker than things you have done with The 69 Eyes. It really has a lot of depth to it. Was that something that you wanted to keep separate from The 69 Eyes?
Jyrki 69 – The 69 Eyes is a certain kind of band. We have a certain sound. We don’t have that kind of limitation over the years, it’s always been different kinds of stuff on the records, but some things we have to separate. That’s why I started the Rockabilly band, The 69 Cats, because I wanted to play that kind of rude sounding stuff. Then, for this solo record, there are these moody, very long songs. The 69 Eyes is not that serious in that sense. It’s made seriously and everything is how it is, but the solo album is really more deep down, dark stuff. The 69 Eyes is never that dark. It shouldn’t be. It is what it is, it has its form, it has its purpose, and it has its own style.
Helsinki Vampire was actually kind of difficult to record. Sometimes we got upset after recording some of the songs (laughs). Recording is like theater – you have to find the character, you have to be present in the song. It also goes into your system. When the songs are like this, it eats you up after a while. I love it and it was fantastic. We were laughing, saying, “Holy shit, that was pretty hard to record this song because it’s so dark.” Hopeful music, but I’d say it’s more mindful music. You can just listen to it, then maybe a couple of days later you realize, hold on, what about that song? I hope that it’s like that for people.
CrypticRock.com – Something that sticks out about this solo record, it is very atmospheric and there are a lot of subtleties to a lot of the songs. You said it was difficult to record for you, and you can hear these subtleties throughout the record. It seemed like there was a lot of delicate little things that you put in here and there. Was that all by design?
Jyrki 69 – Yeah, and I’m thinking that just starts to show the genius of Johnny Lee Michaels. He really can’t be as creative as he’d like to be with The 69 Eyes because we are a five piece Rock-n-Roll band, so that limits him. On Helsinki Vampire, he handles all of the instruments. He plays everything, every guitar solo, every keyboard, he orchestrates them. We are a five piece Rock-n-Roll band and we write a straightforward song which is meant to be played live in front of the audience, and that limits certain things. On Helsinki Vampire, there was no limits.
I still don’t know how or what he did. I think this really shows his genius. What is his genius? I think it’s the way of using keyboards and making old school stuff sound classic and timeless. For example, “Blood Lust,” it sounds like it’s from the ’80s. It’s not retro, but it smells very much like ’80s, but in the end it’s very modern and timeless. Let’s see what people think of this record. I’d like to do the next one if people really like this one. It’s interesting to create this kind of music.
CrypticRock.com – That would be cool. Helsinki Vampire came out on June 23rd. You said you have come to America with The 69 Cats, but The 69 Eyes have not been here in some time. Will there be a forthcoming The 69 Eyes or solo shows?
Jyrki 69 – It’s really criminal how long The 69 Eyes haven’t been in The States. That is just because of the economics, it’s very expensive to bring the band there and arrange everything. We are still, of course, looking forward to it happening at some time. Meanwhile, I’ve been impatient and I’ve been playing with The 69 Cats in really fantastic places like Nashville and New Orleans, and so on.
With the solo record, let’s see how it goes. If it goes like I’ve dreamt, which occasionally seems to happen, I’d like to come and play some solo shows. I’m putting together an American band for that, some friends from Hollywood just to play a handful of shows for the solo record and maybe some cover songs. That’s in my plans, let’s see if it becomes reality.
CrypticRock.com – That would be exciting to see that happen. Understandable in regards to the long stretch without The 69 Eyes visiting the USA. It is expensive to come to the USA, to get a work Visa, to bring your equipment, etc.
Jyrki 69 – Everything that I do, a guy who creates Rockabilly stuff and the solo record, everything in the end leads into The 69 Eyes. Sooner or later we will be back. If it’s not happening, I can’t wait, I’ll do these other things by myself. I want to do it, but they’re easier at this point.
CrypticRock.com – Well it is something to look forward to. A The 69 Eyes fan will really enjoy Helsinki Vampire because it encompasses all of The 69 Eyes darkest elements and amplifies them 100 percent. That said, it seems like on this album you are able to challenge yourself more vocally.
Jyrki 69 – There is more space for me to sing. The thing that is cool, Cleopatra Records, which are releasing it, they are now in the movie business as well. That was a really cool connection to get a couple of singles like “Last Halloween” and “Blood Lust” into some upcoming Horror movies. That was always something that I have been dreaming of all my life. Really half of The 69 Eyes songs are wannabe movie songs – “Lost Boys” and “Brandon Lee,” just to name a few. Now it has all of a sudden happened.
A couple of the songs of Helsinki Vampire will go to the movies and the videos will be like a teaser from the movies. I really have reached my goal of what I always wanted with this. Maybe one fine day I will write a movie theme song as well! “Blood Lust” will also be a video. It will be in a movie called Sunset Society. There’s Lemmy from Motörhead and he’s a main vampire along with a couple of other sunset strip heroes in the movie as well. That video will be awesome and movie looks super fun too. It’s everything I’ve talked, dreamt, and tried to achieve, is on this record, really.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent! You mentioned movies, that leads into my very last question, clearly you are a fan of the Horror movies. That said, what some of your favorite Horror movies?
Jyrki 69 – This is a question which is asked so many times and I tend to give different answers. It depends. I should ask a question back. Do you consider vampire movies as Horror? What do you mean with Horror? I like old school stuff and lame classic Horror movies. I don’t like too much because Horror nowadays has become a very graphical and realistic direction. I’m more with the softer values (laughs).
Then what is always a question is what is my favorite vampire movie? One movie has already been mentioned here and one hasn’t. I like to say Fright Night (1985) was something that really had an impact on me. The original one of course, Tom Holland’s movie. I went to see it to the theaters and when you went there they gave you glow in the dark plastic fangs. The movie had, I think, the first ever onscreen rockstar kind of vampire. That movie had something, it really inspired me back then. One of the first The 69 Eyes songs we ever wrote as a demo was called “Fright Night.” I had just saw that movie, so now as we are planning on writing music, I forced our guitarist to discover the demo, and it’s time to do that track finally!
CrypticRock.com – That is very cool to hear. Fright Night is a really great vampire film. It’s a fun film. It seems like a lot of modern Horror films are more graphic. There is really not a lot of mystique to a lot of Horror films. The cheesiness is one thing in a lot of older films, but it is that atmospheric quality that really draws you in.
Jyrki 69 – Nobody does movies like in the ’80s anymore. They were always a good wipe. With the music and positiveness it would end up in good terms. Nowadays, of course, times have changed. That’s why ’80s movies have become classics, so many of them. That wipe is there like The Jewel of the Nile (1985) or Back to the Future (1985). They became classics because nobody makes those kinds of movies. Talking about Horror movies, I went to the movies to see The Crimson Peak in 2015 and I actually liked it! That was old school kind of, and very beautiful. I wish they made movies like that more.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, Guillermo del Toro is quite good at that. Did you happen to see the 2016 movie The Neon Demon?
Jyrki 69 – Yes, absolutely, and it’s fucking great! The sound of the movie is exactly the sound of our the Helsinki Vampire album. The synthesizers on this record, it’s exactly like from the sound world in that movie. Nicolas Winding Refn is the fucking coolest director at the moment as well. I really like that movie a lot. I went to see it in the movies. It has all these elements from different and wipes. There’s something familiar. Something unexpected, but somehow I think everything was right in that movie. It really made you think later on. Sound-wise, I think “Blood Lust” could be played on that and fit in that movie.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed completely. While we are on the topic of movies, it seems like nowadays, when it comes to a lot of newer Horror films, a lot of them are remakes. What do you think of all these remakes?
Jyrki 69 – I liked the first The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake in 2003, that was a really cool one. The other remakes, they’re just movies that roll on your TV. They’re made to fill some time gap on TV. For instance, the remake of Fright Night, I don’t know what to say about it. It’s…I have no idea what to say. When Rob Zombie does Halloween movies, they’re not remakes, they’re tributes in a way. It’s hard to say anything about remakes really. Is there any sense? Maybe they will hopefully introduce someone to check out the original one.
It’s just strange that people don’t come up with any new ideas these days. That might have something to do with the financial level. Maybe the people don’t finance original ideas. It’s easier to finance the mold that’s based on some blockbuster from earlier days.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. A lot of things, at least in American culture, people like to see things they already know. Hollywood just keeps rehashing these things because they know it sells. Would you ever consider starring in a movie?
Jyrki 69 – Yeah, of course. I was already…I did a cameo in a Russian children’s movie that was filmed in Moscow. I play Sandman. Sandman is from Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale, but we all know it’s a character from Neil Gaiman’s comic books. I was the Sandman in “Devils,” but it was so close to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman that I’m happy I had a chance to do it. That is something that I already did, but that’s the next level. Music I’ve done for so many years, so the next step would to do the movies. Hopefully in the near time soon. If they need somebody who has a nearly Transylvania type accent, I’m here. I don’t have to fake it. It’s real.